It's hard to think of any aspect of life that remains untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic. Disruptions in the professional sphere are some of the most significant, with everyday work becoming a tricky field to navigate. Employee contracts, which were rarely straightforward before, are particularly complicated now.
As the pandemic continues to spread, many legal matters have drifted into a gray area. Now, understanding the responsibilities and freedoms as an employee or employer isn't always clear. This confusion is starting to lead to a rush of contract disputes.
In this confusing time, mediators may find that they have an unusually daunting workload. Tensions are high, and since mediation is not a binding process, outcomes may not always meet people's expectations. It can be challenging, but the role of the mediator has never been more critical.
Furloughs, Compensation and Layoffs
Issues of when or if someone can work and get paid are far more common now than they once were. Decisions about laying off or furloughing employees can push already high tensions to a breaking point. Given the high stress of this period, mediation may be more difficult, but more crucial.
When mediating these disputes, remember that finding a common goal helps diffuse tension and move forward. Everyone wants to stay safe, and part of that is having job and paycheck security. Helping employers and their workers realize their shared goals can help start more productive talks.
The pandemic presents a kind of double-edged sword when finding these commonalities. On the one hand, everyone can connect over a shared difficulty, but on the other, tensions over wealth disparity have risen to extremes. Swelling public attention about divisions between workers and employers may make finding common ground difficult.
Mediators may have to work harder to get workers to empathize with their employers' situations. It may help to highlight how even if the pandemic has affected people differently, it's still affected them both. Only once both parties recognize each others' situations can they move on to discuss fair compensation or other issues.
Working From Home
As more companies adopt a work-from-home approach to maintain social distancing, this can complicate mediation. These guidelines can present new issues, such as benefits or wage disagreements, which can lead to disputes. As a mediator, you may face some unique challenges.
Sitting between the conflicting parties in the same room may not be possible right now. Videoconferencing will be more helpful than trying to mediate over a phone call, as it allows people to read body language. Still, mediators may encounter some difficulty in working through these restrictions.
At the same time, mediators can use this new setting to their advantage. The more casual nature of online conversation may help both parties relax. Since videoconferencing may be unfamiliar territory for everyone, it also provides a more neutral ground to start discussions.
In light of these newly distant workspaces, you may also encounter more e-contracts than normal. Even if you don't, it's a good idea to get familiar with electronic document sharing and signing to facilitate easier cooperation over distances.
Mediation is Essential During Times of Crisis
The work of a mediator may be more stressful now, but it's also more crucial. Amid the chaos, mediation provides a place to slow down and put things into perspective. This kind of space is essential in a crisis like the pandemic.
Mediation has never been an easy undertaking. COVID-19 has heightened tension, but the underlying issues are typically the same as they have always been. As a result, the job of a mediator remains the same, too: to help parties understand one another and move forward productively.
Kayla Matthews is a business productivity journalist and wellness writer whose work has been featured on New Worker Magazine, The Muse, B2B News, and The Business Journals. To see more of her writing, visit her blog Productivity Theory or follow her on Twitter.